Tracy Schmidt, '14, was named director of Heart, Love and Soul's Daybreak program in April 2020.

Niagara University has had a long relationship with Heart, Love and Soul, so it seems fitting that an NU alumna has been selected to lead the development, opening, and ongoing management of its new Daybreak program.            

Tracy Schmidt, a 2014 social work graduate, was named director of Daybreak in early April. It was a homecoming, of sorts, as the former Vincentian Scholar (she was a member of its first cohort in 2010) was a volunteer at the agency during her undergraduate years at Niagara. In 2015, she returned to the nonprofit organization to assist in developing the business model and plan for Daybreak.

While Daybreak was initially intended to be a one-stop resource center offering a continuum of care to support those most in need in the community, the coronavirus pandemic, and the social distancing it is requiring, has forced Schmidt and the team at Heart, Love and Soul to adjust that original vision.

“We were going to have four rotating offices where different providers from the community could come to Daybreak in person to offer services,” Schmidt said. “Now, we’re thinking about using those spaces to provide the means for tele or virtual services, and we’re developing policies and procedures about how many in the building, proper sanitizing, all those types of things.” Those policies and procedures will be flexible, she added, so that they can “adapt and change to whatever the world is going to look like in August,” when the program is slated to begin.

Schmidt, who has a master’s degree in social work and experience working at the Veterans Administration, Erie County Crisis Services, and in the renewable energy and clinical behavioral health fields, is currently exploring what the community needs are and how Daybreak’s business plan can shift to meet those needs. She is also looking at the resources available, such as grants, and what is needed, such as data systems, to support the delivery of the services they will offer as part of a coordinated care effort with their community partners.

Because sustainability is a focus for Daybreak, Schmidt plans to gather data that validates the work Heart, Love and Soul does.

“This is kind of an evolutionary period for Heart and Soul,” she said. “We’re really expanding, and if we want to continue to have funding available for those services, we need to prove and show what we’re doing.”

Schmidt is also working with a 12-member leadership committee consisting of representatives from a variety of community organizations. Their guidance, she said, will help her create a program that provides for some of the unmet needs of the community. While the current pandemic has made that more difficult than anticipated, the commitment of the membership and the team at Heart, Love and Soul has been encouraging for Schmidt.

There’s a really dedicated group of people who are trying to seek new resources coming into the community to make real changes that may have been needed for a while, and taking it very seriously,” she said. “I’m humbled to be a part of it. I’m happy to be connected to Niagara (again) in this way and I think this community between NU, Heart and Soul, and Niagara Falls is a really special community. I’m very happy to be back.”

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